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article imageTrump's threat raises Venezuelan fears — and hopes

By Roland LLOYD PARRY (AFP)     Feb 19, 2019 in Politics

US President Donald Trump's threat to the Venezuelan military enraged government loyalists on Tuesday and raised hope among its critics in a potentially volatile standoff over aid shipments.

Trump raised the tension on Monday when he warned Venezuelan military commanders would have "no safe harbor" if they did not abandon Maduro and start letting US food and medical aid into the country.

His message angered many on the streets of Caracas -- even those who admitted they were hurting in the economic crisis.

"It would be good if we could get some of the medicine and food that we are lacking, because we need it for sure," said Melida Rojas, a 55-year-old housewife on Caracas's central Bolivar Square.

"But it should be in good faith, from a country that likes us. We don't need anything from a country that really wants to harm us like the United States has."

- 'Divine justice'? -

US aid has become a focus of the conflict between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Jua...
US aid has become a focus of the conflict between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido
LUIS ROBAYO, AFP

In Venezuela, even those who hate the government share at least a hint of its suspicion of the United States. Yet that did not stop some of them from backing Trump in his verbal assault.

"Maybe there are other interests involved," said Diana Dalke, 24, in the east of the city.

"But I think it is excellent that (Trump) is making people see what is happening here. The people who are supposed to be providing the hospitals and medicine are not doing so."

Walking nearby in the sunshine, acupuncturist Oswaldo Salinas was so angry with Maduro that he welcomed the US president's intervention.

"Donald Trump's speech yesterday... showed that divine justice exists," said Salinas, 42.

Salinas said Maduro's government was to blame for violent crime and an economic crisis that has caused hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods.

"We are like hostages of an armed regime and we cannot act by ourselves against that tyranny that is doing us so much harm," he said.

"We agree that help should come from outside."

- Revolutionary zeal -

The president of Venezuela's National Assembly and Juan Guaido declared himself interim preside...
The president of Venezuela's National Assembly and Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on January 23
Federico PARRA, AFP/File

The aid has become a focus of the conflict between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself acting president.

Maduro says the aid shipments are a smokescreen for an invasion by US "imperialists."

The dispute has raised tension at Venezuela's border, where supplies of aid are waiting on the Colombian side.

Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino warned Tuesday the armed forces were "deployed and on alert along the borders... to avoid any violations of territorial integrity."

Maduro's supporters echoed this defiance.

"If there were an invasion, I would give my life for my country," said Hernan Rodriguez, 70, on Bolivar Square.

"Because I am Venezuelan. I am a revolutionary."

- Aid dispute -

Soldiers loyal to President Nicolas Maduro blocked the Tienditas bridge on the Colombian border in e...
Soldiers loyal to President Nicolas Maduro blocked the Tienditas bridge on the Colombian border in early February to stop US aid from getting into Venezuela
EDINSON ESTUPINAN, AFP/File

With the military preventing aid coming across the border from Colombia, Guaido has called for Venezuelan volunteers to bring it across themselves in the coming days.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier has insisted the US has no intention of entering Venezuelan territory by force to distribute food and medicine.

But Trump has declined to rule out an armed intervention. The United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuela's state oil firm and has granted control of some of its US-based assets to Guaido.

Despite their reservations about Trump, some ordinary Venezuelans said they believed he could offer a way out of the crisis.

"The United States isn't exactly a saint. He has his own interests with regard to us," said Dalke's husband, Moises Parisi, 25.

"He wants to exploit Venezuela. But at the same time there is a feeling of relief because we know that, despite him having his interests, the country will be able to develop."

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